With star forward Derrick Williams having fouled out in regulation it was time for some of the more overlooked youngsters to step up, and that's exactly what MoMo Jones and Kevin Parrom did. Jones, much maligned in the early going, made plays on multiple forays to the basket in scoring a team-high 27 points in 39 minutes of action. And Parrom was his usual "jack of all trades" self off the bench, scoring 25 points to go along with six rebounds and six assists in helping push Arizona to a 107-105 triple-overtime victory. The win moves the Wildcats to 9-2 in Pac-10 play, two games ahead of Washington and one ahead of UCLA (who they've already beaten) in the loss column.
"[The win] says that we have a lot of heart as a team," said Parrom after the game. "It's not just Derrick Williams. We have a lot of other guys who can play, and we made a statement tonight to the Pac-10." (quote courtesy of Arizona Athletics)
Williams did manage to play 33 minutes, scoring 12 points and grabbing 18 rebounds on a night that saw Cal head coach Mike Montgomery call on his matchup zone defense to surround the likely All-America. Harper Kamp had a career night for the Golden Bears with 33 points and 10 rebounds while Allen Crabbe (27) and Jorge Gutierrez (25) both passed the 20-point mark to go along with Brandon Smith's 11 assists. But it wasn't enough to knock off the Wildcats at home in the second thriller these two have played this season (Arizona won 73-71 in Tucson on January 6).
"We got what we wanted on many occasions and failed to make the play," said Coach Montgomery. "Arizona seemed to make the play when they needed to. The only chance they had were three-point plays and we should have been more cognizant of that." (quote courtesy of Cal Athletics)
There's been some hesitation nationally when it comes to taking Coach Miller's team seriously due to the historically poor year the Pac-10 had a season ago. But two things: the league has improved (ever so slightly, but still not up to the level it's expected to be at), and this team has matured. And while Cal, despite how they've improved as their youngsters have grown, isn't the best litmus test in regard to March for Arizona to win a game like this without their headliner says something about the direction in which the program is headed. Few teams will be ecstatic at the sight of the Wildcats in their bracket come Selection Sunday.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Just when you give up Baylor for dead they hit the road and beat Texas A&M.
Just a few days ago, following their loss at Oklahoma, many (myself included) left Scott Drew's Baylor Bears for dead in regard to getting back to the NCAA Tournament. But they're not dead yet, with a 76-74 win at Texas A&M on Saturday being the first step back into the field after underachieving throughout the course of the season. LaceDarius Dunn's had better afternoons than his 17-point, five assist (and seven turnovers) showing in College Station, but that meant more opportunities for freshman Perry Jones III who stepped up with 27 and seven rebounds. Anthony Jones and Quincy Acy scored ten apiece for the Bears, who picked up their first road victory of note.
But it was their defense that got it done in the second half and overtime, limiting the Aggies to 35.7% (2nd half) and 33.3% (OT) in the final two sessions. The question for Baylor going forward: can they take advantage of the opportunities that lie in front of them? The Bears still have two meetings with Texas in addition to road games at Missouri and Oklahoma State, providing them with the ability to pick up more resume-building victories.
2. Is Illinois headed for another late-season collapse?
Toughness, both mental and physical, has been a concern for Bruce Weber's team since the beginning of Big Ten play and Saturday's loss at Northwestern did little in showing that Illinois could remedy the problem. The Illini fell in Evanston 71-70, never leading despite putting together a few rallies to draw close to the Wildcats. Juice Thompson led Northwestern with 22 points, and JerShon Cobb (13 points) and Drew Crawford (12) chipped in offensively. Brandon Paul scored 21 off the bench to lead Illinois and Demetri McCamey added 14, but once again the two Mikes were largely quiet on a stage that needed them to play a starring role. The two frontcourt seniors combined for 12 points (5-for15 FG) and nine rebounds, and it needs to be said again: Illinois cannot beat the better teams in the Big Ten with uneven performances like this.
But if you're Coach Weber what can you do at this point? Last year Illinois lost five of their last six regular season games to plummet from near-NCAA lock to the NIT, and at this point they've lost five of their last seven. Do they have the fortitude required to right the ship? Tough question to answer right now, but games against Minnesota (road; Thursday) and Purdue (home; Sunday) will deliver a likely final verdict by the end of the week.
3. Florida's interior play pushes them past Kentucky, giving them control of SEC East.
With Arizona/California being available only if one reside in either team's market or had a DirecTV subscription many had their eyes trained in on the lone matchup between ranked teams. And it didn't disappoint, with Florida beating Kentucky 70-68 to assume control of the SEC East race. Billy Donovan's club now leads the division by a game over Tennessee (who they've already beaten) and by two over the rest of the division in the loss column, and they used their interior players to get the job done. Chandler Parsons (17 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and Vernon Macklin (11 points) were two of the three Gators in double figures while Alex Tyus added eight, and as a team Florida outscored Kentucky 30-24 in the paint while also making 18 of 22 from the foul line.
Point guard Erving Walker turned the ball over just two times while accounting for five assists, and Florida's overall assist-to-turnover ratio was their best since pasting Arkansas 75-43 on January 22. Simply put if the Gators continue to work the ball inside and get to the foul line they're going to be a tough team to beat, even with trips to both Kentucky and Vanderbilt remaining along with home contests against Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama (who leads the SEC).
4. Virginia Tech allows a golden opportunity to gain separation slip away.
Whoever said that the only guarantees in life are death and taxes hadn't encountered the Virginia Tech basketball program beforehand, because their status as a perennial bubble team would be lock number three. But when you end up on the bubble the folks to blame are usually the ones in that very locker room, and that was the case in their 58-56 loss at Boston College. Jeff Allen showed up in a big way for the Hokies, scoring 25 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in what was likely his best game of the season. But when Erick Green scores just one point (0-for-8 FG) that puts more pressure on Malcolm Delaney to produce offensively (6-for-17, 19 points), and it didn't help matters that the bench provided zero points and four rebounds.
Joe Trapani led Boston College with 14 points, nine rebounds and a critical block of Delaney in the final seconds, allowing the Eagles to climb back into the discussion in the middle of the ACC while dragging the Hokies down at the same time. Now tied for fourth in the conference with BC, Clemson and Maryland, Seth Greenberg's team is in a logjam they likely needed to avoid at this point in the campaign. Now in the fray instead of above it, does Virginia Tech have enough bodies to finally break through and get into the NCAA Tournament? Having their next two at home (Georgia Tech and Maryland) should help recharge the batteries some, and the two road games that follow (Virginia, Wake Forest) are manageable despite a loss to UVA in December. But they'll likely need to emerge 3-1 before hosting Duke on the 26th in order to be a surefire NCAA team.
5. In a game that meant more harm (to the loser) than good (for the winner), Memphis beats Gonzaga.
It's tough to measure the value of a game like this in regard to the NCAA Tournament as both are in a bit of trouble when it comes to an at-large bid. Could Memphis' win over Gonzaga at Spokane Arena be a case of "a loss does more harm than a win does good"? That certainly seems to be the case, especially when considering the plight of Mark Few's club within the WCC (5-3, tied for third 2 GB Saint Mary's). Memphis, winners by the final score of 62-58, finds themselves as part of a five-team logjam one game behind first-place UTEP in the loss column and they look to be the better bet concerning possibly winning a regular season title.
Antonio Barton, overlooked in favor of his brother Will by many before the season began, led the way with 17 points with Charles Carmouche added 13 and Will 12. Memphis was solid defensively, limiting the Bulldogs to 35.8% from the field and winning the rebounding battle 36-29 on an afternoon that saw both teams scuffle offensively. But with both teams not playing at their "traditional" levels it's tough to look at the win as more than a "stay of execution" for the Tigers right now.
Top Five Games
1. (22) Arizona 107, California 105 (3OT)
2. (23) Florida 70, (11) Kentucky 68
3. (14) Georgetown 83, Providence 81 One of the best individual performances in college basketball this season wasn't enough for Providence, who fell short at Georgetown. Marshon Brooks put up 43 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in defeat while Austin Freeman led the Hoyas with 23.
4. Harvard 83, Pennsylvania 82 (OT) Thanks to 25 points from Keith Wright and 18 and nine rebounds from Kyle Casey, Harvard bounced back from Friday's loss at Princeton to beat the Quakers in overtime. Jack Eggleston led four Penn players in double figures with 23 while Zack Rosen added 19 and 13 assists.
5. IUPUI 100, Oakland 88 Alex Young (31 points, nine rebounds) and Leroy Nobles (23 points, seven rebounds) proved to be too much for the Oakland defense to handle, leading the way as the Jaguars handed the Golden Grizzlier their first conference defeat. Reggie Hamilton led Oakland with 23 and center Keith Benson played just 18 minutes due to foul trouble.
Five Notable Performances
1. G Marshon Brooks (Providence) 43 points, 10 rebounds and three assists in the Friars' 83-81 loss at Georgetown.
2. F Anthony Hill (Milwaukee) 29 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in the Panthers' 88-75 win over rival Green Bay.
3. F Jeff Allen (Virginia Tech) 25 points, 19 rebounds, three steals and two assists in the Hokies' 58-56 loss at Boston College.
4. F Harper Kamp (California) 33 points and 10 rebounds in the Golden Bears' 107-105 triple overtime loss to Arizona.
5. F Jordan Williams (Maryland) 27 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks in the Terrapins' 91-70 whipping of Wake Forest.
MILESTONE: G Jimmer Fredette (BYU) 29 points in the Cougars' 78-64 win over UNLV, making him the all-time leading scorer in Mountain West history with 2,194 career points. He passed Brandon Heath, who tallied 2,189 in his four-year career at San Diego State.